In the happy debates between Protestants and Catholics, we Catholics are often charged with holding to un-Biblical beliefs, then when we give the Biblical support for those beliefs we are charged with ‘twisting Scripture’; ‘taking Scripture out of context” or the Protestant simply says (on no authority other than the ‘proof text’ displeases him) but “But that’s not what that passage means.”

Here’s an example: Protestant says, “You Catholics hold to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but it’s totally un-Biblical.” So we refer them the story of the annunciation where Mary is greeted with the term ‘full of grace’. (Luke 1.28) We conclude that if she was ‘full of grace’ then she had no sin for the Biblical definition of sin is to “fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) If she was “full of grace” then we only have to ask when this fullness started and we conclude logically that it must have started when her life started, and life starts at conception so she must have been conceived without sin. We refer to Genesis 3:15 where God says that as a woman has given in to Satan, so a woman will trample the head of Satan, and we refer to Justin Martyr and Irenaeus and teh other Fathers who refer very early on to the Blessed Virgin as ‘the second Eve’ and conclude that as the first Eve was created perfect, so was the second. Now, we are happy to admit that this does not amount to Jesus Christ himself saying to his apostles, “My mother was conceived without sin and thou shalt believe this and teach it until I come again in glory.” We also admit that the doctrine (while implicit in Scripture) was not defined formally until fairly late. That’s okay. We believe in the possibility of the development of Doctrine, and we have theologians who help us define how and when that happens validly.

Compare this however, with the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura which has no Biblical proof texts, no evidence from the early Church fathers, and was invented by the sixteenth century reformers and is held to by all their followers as a foundation tenet of their belief system, and this from people who deny that doctrine develops, believe every doctrine must originate in the primitive Church, and say “If it’s not in the Bible you’re not to believe it.” The same applies to the Protestant bedrock doctrine of sola Fide or faith alone. The only reference to faith alone in the Bible is James 2:24 where such a concept is formally repudiated.

Without any agreed interpretative authority the Bible means whatever people decide it means. Here are a few other ‘Biblical interpretations’ I’ve heard over the years. I have deliberately chosen a range of Protestant traditions so the conservative Evangelicals can’t say, “Yes, but those are the kooky liberal Anglicans.” and the Anglicans can’t say, “Yes but those are the kooky American fundamentalists.”

First–one of my favorites–the snake handlers. They interpret Mark 16:18 literally and so they pass around rattlesnakes and vipers at their worship services and they drink poison to see if they will survive. We know Christians who insist that their women cannot wear trousers because of a verse in the Old Testament and Seventh Day Adventists who only worship on Saturday because they don’t find Sunday worship in the Bible. Lest people think I am only giving radical, way out and insane examples, we have to include the vast majority of Evangelical Christians who take the whole package of late-invented dispensationalist ‘end days’ Biblical interpretations with the utmost seriousness.

Then there was the Anglican vicar who counseled a friend of mine to have an abortion because Jesus says, “Let the little children come unto me and forbid them not.” There’s the female Baptist minister who admitted that her abortion was killing but quoted the Old Testament idea of sacrifice and one person laying down a life for the good of another. Another Anglican friend explained quite sincerely how homosexuality was okay because Jonathan and David loved one another and John was the disciple Jesus loved. The incident when Peter had a dream of unclean beasts and was told to ‘kill and eat’ has been used to convince people that the otherwise forbidden innovation of women priests was okay after all, and the ‘youth who ran away naked’ from the garden of Gethsemane has been used to support Christian naturism.

I understand how non-Catholics may not see or accept the Biblical basis for Catholic beliefs, but what I don’t get is how they miss the lack of Biblical support for some of their foundational beliefs and the amazingly weird Biblical interpretations some in their own ranks hold to with utmost sincerity.